Happy birthday, Dad, and the day – today - somehow feels more like it is his birthday than all those when he was here for birthdays, whistling as ever an obscure tune in his unusual off-the-tongue tone.
|Close to departure time ... The birthday boy with wife, eldest and youngest.|
I couldn’t comprehend how he could divide, add, multiply with such ease.
An air raid
He suspected that mental laziness was the reason I couldn’t.
I entered the world during an air raid, I’m told, with strafing and bombing by enemy crew grateful for the ease of navigation Salisbury Cathedral provided.
He was at work, working on Spitfires, when I arrived.
As he did voluntary duty as a sort of street night-watchman in that ancient city, he missed my entrance altogether.
Memory includes him next in early boyhood as the disciplinarian, insisting that I ‘eat it all up’ at our appalling Sunday dinners.
I hated the taste, if that’s the word, of food during those war years of extreme rationing, and doubtlessly he hated the percentage of wages that went to buy the food, and the number of rationing coupons.
|The clan close to departure ... Much of both sides of the family near the departure. Seems so odd that only three here are alive today.|
Rationed ration books
Back then you couldn’t get even a potato or a pea without the very rationed ration books distributed by the war-time government.
And yet, somehow, he found a way to keep the family together.
It was a family that grew to four little ones before he realised that England’s ration-less future, after bankrupting itself with the war, was light years away.
Somehow that brave, determined fellow arranged migration to a land that allegedly was swamped with milk and honey.
|Products of the land of milk and honey ... Perhaps two decades after my father decided to migrate, this was the family.|
Back at that time, God’s Own was rather a different place, and prospects looked bleak.
However, he was happy – or prepared – to learn hydro-electric engineering and use that in place of his aeronautical engineering skills. And he took us off to the bush.
We children old enough for schooling took our accents from posh English schools onto kiwi playgrounds, and suffered, were tortured endlessly until our accents modified.
I hated it
I hated it, and like most kids, I didn’t occur to me that the ribbing Dad would have taken from Kiwi workmates would have been so much more difficult and unending.
It’s much easier for a child to change an accent, of course, than it is for an adult.
I don’t doubt, thinking back now, that life was exceedingly challenging for him. Now I appreciate it enormously, and throw in a pilgrimage each year for his birthday.
The family sailed on the 20,000-ton ship, Orontes, leaving via Tilbury, on the Thames. So today’s pilgrimage was a good long walk beside the Thames. And every few paces I’d say, ‘Happy birthday, Dad’, sad that that brave and determined man couldn’t hear it.
It often seems to be an irony of being a father, particularly a father like him who is there for all of the kids' lives, that they have to die before the progeny wake up to all he did for them, and to really appreciate it.
Happy birthday, brilliant sadly-missed father!
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